In exactly 31 days the Pittsburgh Steelers will report to Latrobe for training camp, so it is now time for us to start previewing the 2013 training camp battles that will take place. First up on the list is the battle between nose tackles Alameda Ta\'amu and Hebron Fangupo. Feel free to add your comments below and vote in the poll in addition.
Training Camp Battle Setup: 2013 will feature a changing of the
guard nose guard in Pittsburgh as Steve McLendon will now replace Casey Hampton, who held the starting job for nearly 12 seasons. The Steelers depth at the position has a big question mark associated with it; however, as both Ta\'amu and Fangupo have failed to play a regular season snap since arriving in Pittsburgh last year. To complicate matters, defensive end Al Woods received a lot of work as the second-team nose tackle over the course of the offseason practices.
Alameda Ta\'amu - We all knew that the Ta\'amu would be pretty much redshirted during his rookie season after being selected by the Steelers in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but we had no idea that he would be wearing an orange jumpsuit in addition. Ta\'amu really let the organization down when he was arrested last October after he reportedly tried to evade police while driving intoxicated and hitting several parked cars on the South Side. Ta\'amu, who was suspended for two weeks without pay following the incident, eventually pleaded guilty to three counts of recklessly endangering another person, resisting arrest and driving under the influence and received 18 months probation as part of his sentence.
2013 is a new season for Ta\'amu, who has reportedly quite drinking and dropped a little weight during the offseason. He still has a long way to go, however, in his development of becoming a 3-4 nose tackle in Pittsburgh and the fact that he only saw limited work with the second team during the offseason practices isn\'t exactly encouraging news. Defensive line coach John Mitchell will continue to try to develop Ta\'amu during training camp, and the Washington product figures to see quite a bit of playing time during the preseason, which is something that he didn\'t get a lot of as a rookie. Can he two-gap effectively in the Steelers base 3-4 which allows the linebackers to stay covered up and make plays? Does he fully understand the defense now? We shall see during the preseason.
Hebron Fangupo - The Steelers lack of faith in Ta\'amu really showed when they decided to claim Fangupo off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks late last season. The coaching staff knew all about the BYU product, however, as they had him in for a pre draft visit prior to last years\' draft. Fangupo played defensive end in college so his transition to nose tackle will take some time. Like Ta\'amu, Fangupo stayed in Pittsburgh most of the offseason in order to work on his conditioning. He has also admitted during the spring practices that he is having to forget everything he has learned prior to arriving in Pittsburgh as the position change requires a totally different skill set.
Fangupo is quite old for a player only in his second year as he will turn 28 years of age just prior to training camp get underway. With age, however, comes maturity and that is certainly where he has a leg up on the 22-year-old Ta\'amu. Fortunately for Fangupo, he played in a 3-4 system at BYU, so he is a little more accustomed to having to take on two blockers as opposed to just shooting a gap all the time. That being said, playing the nose tackle position will require him seeing the game from a whole different viewpoint.
Prediction: Knowing that Woods figures largely into the picture right now means there are no guarantees either of these two nose tackles will make the final 53 man roster. Should the Steelers have enough faith in Woods that he can handle the backup role to McLendon, then Ta\'amu and Fagupo could effectively be battling in camp for a spot on the Steelers practice squad. Right now, I would give the edge to Ta\'amu only because he is younger and was a draft pick because there simply isn\'t enough game tape on either player from last preseason to break down. Both of these combatants figure to get a lot of playing time during the preseason, so we will pay close attention to which one enters the game before the other and how each plays when given the opportunity. In essence, this training camp battle is more about the future than it is the present because should something happen to McLendon during the season; I have a feeling that Hampton will be signed to take over as the starter.